Nietzsche, Friedrich


Nietzsche, Friedrich
(1844–1900)
   A German philologist and philosopher of the nineteenth century, among the most misunderstood and disputed minds of his and our time. In the words of historian Golo Mann, “his work was a catastrophe which presaged and predicted Europe’s general catastrophe.” His major contributions, Thus Spake Zarathustra, Beyond Good and Evil, The Will to Power, and Ecce Homo were little appreciated while he lived. This resulted in a professional and intellectual isolation that made some of Nietzsche’s later writing shrill and polemical in nature.
   Some of his more controversial ideas - for example that of the Übermensch or superman, a free intellect unrestrained in thought and action by conventional morality and contemptuous of weakness, sentiment, and compassion - were influenced by his idolatry of Napoleon Bonaparte and were appropriated by the Nazis in the 1930s to lend an intellectual sheen to Adolf Hitler’s “will to power.” In the Second Reich of Otto von Bismarck and Wilhelm II, however, Nietzsche’s elegantly articulate cultural criticism was merciless in its condemnation of German nationalism, popular anti-Semitism, and what he called the “proletarianization of civilization.” He broke with Richard Wagner, a friend and influence, over Wagner’s anti-Semitism and the “horned Siegfried” heroes of his operas. In many ways a product of the Germany he professed to loathe, Nietzsche lacked any capacity for moderation even in his sanest moments. He was instinctively drawn to incendiary assertions. But in his vision of a future world of wars and revolution he was prophetic.
   See also <>.
   FURTHER READING:
    Kaufmann, Walter. Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psyschologist, Antichrist. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1968;
    Mann, Golo. The History of Germany since 1789. Translated by Marion Jackson. London: Chatto & Windus, 1968;
    Stern, Fritz. The Politics of Cultural Despair: A Study in the Rise of the Germanic Ideology. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1974.
   CARL CAVANAGH HODGE

Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.

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